RIO GRANDE, Ohio — The University of Rio Grande hosted the second seminar of a three-part series on Human Trafficking in Higher Ed.
The second session, which was presented virtually on Friday was titled “Don’t fall for that request to be a sugar baby” and was about social media, online grooming and recruiting in the digital age.
The series is co-sponsored by Eyes Up Appalachia and Gallia County’s Citizens for Prevention and Recovery (CPR).
The speaker for part two was Rhiannon Gill, a sexual violence victim advocate point person for the Pike County Coalition to End Human Trafficking. Gill is also a survivor of human trafficking.
During her presentation, Gill explained the pros and cons of social media, including that the platforms can unite us, but allows traffickers to have an “endless supply” of potential victims to contact.
Gill said the National Human Trafficking Hotline has recorded recruitment in all types of sex and labor trafficking on social media platforms. Through social media, traffickers are able to build relationships and advertise fake or deceptive job postings, according to Gill.
Gill said human trafficking happens in three phases: scouting, manipulating and trapping. Victims can be “showered” with love, romance and promises of a better life or lured with false promises. On the digital platforms, traffickers can give the victims virtual gifts, including gift cards, store credit or gaming currency. These items may not be as recognizable by those around the victim. Gill said sometimes, the traffickers will manipulate the victim’s social media accounts or restrict or monitor their use.
Gill said traffickers will seek out victims that could be vulnerable by seeing their recent posts. Posts that could draw the attention of a trafficker includes “nobody gets me,” “I’m am so sick of being single,” “my life sucks,” “how do I look?,” “my parents don’t trust me,” “I’m being treated like a kid,” or “I need to get out of here.”
Predators will often look for indicators of substance abuse, runaway activity and destabilization within the home, according to Gill. Some responses from traffickers to social media posts include, “I understand you,” “I think you’re beautiful, I’ll encourage you to show your body,” “I’ll make your life better,” “I’ll protect you,” or “I’ll encourage you to take risks.”
From social media posts, traffickers can determine which individuals are most vulnerable, especially children.
“They’re taking the time to exploit your child,” Gill said. “They’re taking the time to exploit you.”
Gill said there are “push factors” and “pull factors” that increase the risk of exploitation. Push factors include poverty, lack of opportunities and jobs, homelessness, lack of education, intimate partner violence, sexual abuse and other forms of trauma.
Pull factors include the desire to have a better life, seeking safety, protection, stability, control, support or love, false opportunities, in search of money, drugs, validation or belonging, and financial desires.
Gill said that parents or guardians should supervise the use of all internet-enables devices, know the child’s online activities and friends, regularly check the online communities that children use, teach your children how to protect personal information posted online, and instruct them to avoid meeting face-to-face with someone they only know online or through a mobile device.
To contact the National Human Trafficking Hotline, call 888-373-7888 or text “BeFree” to 233733.
The final session is scheduled for March 26 at 1 p.m. on Zoom. The topic for the presentation is “Myths vs. Facts” with speaker Samantha Searls, the program manager at the Inter-community Justice and Peace Center in Cincinnati, and chair for the Public Education and Awareness Committee of End Slavery Cincinnati’s Anti-Human Trafficking Coalition.
The recordings of the presentations are to be posted to the university’s social media pages.
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Kayla (Hawthorne) Dunham is a staff writer for Ohio Valley Publishing. Reach her at (304) 675-1333, ext. 1992.